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Thursday 1 November 2018: All Saints Day  

Awakening each other to live out the blessings of Jesus in real life!

Revelation 7:2-4, 9-11; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

By Robin Gibbons

Eastern Catholic Priest and Ecumenical Canon, Academic and Theologian, University of Oxford


Context: community Mass in a London inner-city setting – a culturally and ethnically mixed congregation including academics, business people, students and Religious Sisters

Aim: to waken ourselves from treating our faith as something private and inward looking towards recognizing that discipleship of Jesus is a call to holiness by radical action and presence wherever we are and at all times


A multitude in white

Many people see the book of Revelation as an oddity full of extra-ordinary visions, having little connection with reality as we know it. I’d say that was a fair assessment and I have great sympathy with those who find it difficult to get into, but it is a part of scripture that has really inspired the visual arts and it is the stuff of dreams good and bad!

There are wonderful multi-coloured manuscripts from early medieval Mozarabic Spain with fantastic images of dragons, beasts and angels, all in highly stylized poses, the huge gathered faithful circled in front of the lamb standing proud and defiant. The craziness of this style is replaced in later medieval times by a more ordered, but still rather daunting pictures of an end time, such as the famous Mystical Marriage of the Lamb in Ghent Cathedral by Van Eyck. Somehow these artists go beyond the surface language of scripture and even the historical events that form part of the narrative, to create a world beyond our experience, one where everything is turned upside down. We get that shake up from time to time, disturbance is after all part of our life-pattern and we need to face it. Most of us have at one time or another had apocalyptic dreams, which later we might find immensely healing, the stuff of nightmares becomes tameable once we find the inner key to its meanings.

Perhaps in this passage of Revelation, the image we need to hold fast to is the ‘multitude in white’; if we want to know who they might be, look around you now. All of us at baptism were clothed with that garment, those who minister in the liturgy still wear underneath the gaudy vestments a simple baptismal garment called the Alb, the white robe. It’s us of course; we are the ones in white! We are the sealed ones, confirmed by the Spirit. It’s us who come before the Lamb!


The family of God

So what you might say! Does it really mean anything at all? Isn’t this just creating meaning by stretching a point.

I’d like to say an emphatic NO! One thing that we really need to get hold of is our unique calling as children of the human family who are also children of the Most High God. It’s not an added stamp on some mythical passport, it’s a real definition of who we truly are: above all else, before all else! What marks us out is our baptismal calling, we are the white robed people who should be sharing so much in common with each other and acknowledging ourselves just as the letter of John puts it to live in love as children of God. This is the distinguishing feature of the white robed ones, marked out in the likeness of Christ, of which our baptismal garments are the visible echoes of our transfigured selves in HIM.


A template for being

Yes, we cannot live in isolation. Our faith is never a private function, the cadences of scripture pound out the ancestral memory, we are the family of God, we belong to God and it is through each other that our tentative steps towards fulfillment and salvation take place. In one sense this is a wonderful gift, we don’t rely on our own initiative, salvation comes through Christ, not ourselves, grace is freely given not won as a prize. But there is a cost, one that takes us back to those images of the Book of Revelation: ‘After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb’. (Rev 7:9)

It’s a simple fact; we are one yet we are many. The colours of Revelation and those descriptions of conflict and defeat, battle and victory, cosmos and earth show us the contrasts of our own inner and outer lives. None of us are perfect, but in the white image of the Lamb we discern that in the end we become one with Him.

The 1st of November is All Saints, the revelation of that great communion present on earth in us but gathered beyond us in the realms of eternal light. To be a saint is a step-by-step process and in the blessings of Jesus, what we call the Beatitudes, the template for action is before us. These are the non-negotiable aims and objectives of discipleship with Jesus. It is being and doing. These are not the nightmares of our dreams, but the revelation of God’s loving mercy. To live out the Beatitudes is to make the vision real and to let the Kingdom come.

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